Diary Of An SEO Newbie 2: What Exactly Is Content Marketing?

How many writers wanted to ask that when they first entered the Land of SEO? This week, our SEO newbie wades through the buzzwords and attempts to separate the carrot from the swede in the opacity of digital marketing’s jargon soup…

The other day I was chatting to my boss…

– ‘What exactly am I doing?’ I asked

– ‘What?’ he replied.

– ‘I mean, I know I’m writing lots, but is it content marketing or inbound marketing or blogger outreach or PR or corporate journalism or SEO marketing? I’ve looked online and now I’m confused.’

– ‘It’s kind of all of them, but more some than others,’ he said, leaving me none the wiser (he likes to let us find these things out for ourselves).

One thing only was certain, whatever it was I was doing, it was all digital marketing. But hold your horses there, because then I discovered that even this seemingly consensual umbrella term is currently in flux!

Lose the ‘Digital’…

According to an article in Marketing Week, ‘Digital Marketing’ is to become just ‘Marketing’ in 2013, losing its prefix which many now deem superfluous. In today’s climate where all marketing has become ‘inherently digital’ and digital budgets account for around £31bn worldwide, Forrester predicts that the unnecessary prefix will be dropped.

In short, there are so many terms out there in the online world of digital marketing, many of them mean the same, many overlap, many contradict, many are still finding their feet.

It was comforting to discover that I’m not the only one who is feeling dizzy. According to Joe Pulizzi a revolution in content marketing is just beginning, and with it an agreement about what it actually means.

“Even though there still is confusion over what content marketing is and is not, as an industry we are beginning to come to a consensus on what term we use to refer to our discipline. This means that thought leaders, brand marketers, and agencies are starting to align in their terminology — a necessary milestone for learning and true understanding to occur”.

A Century of Content Marketing

Google now rank ‘content marketing’ as the dominant industry term, overtaking the now retro sounding ‘custom publishing’, and more recently ‘inbound marketing’ too.

What I did find out was that content marketing is not a faddish marketing trend symptomatic of the digital age. It is actually over 100 years old. Back in 1895 John Deere decided to give his customers, and potential customers a little bit more. So they founded a magazine called The Furrow, a stand alone, quality print publication that offered expert advice on all areas of farming to help farmers become more profitable. Deere & Company is now one of the largest manufacturers of agricultural machinery in the world.

Closer to home we find The Michelin Guides. Now such a respected and powerful entity in its own right, it’s easy to forget that this guide to the best in hospitality was the clever content marketing campaign of a large tyre manufacturing company, eager to spread brand awareness, and associate their product with travel and high end pleasures.

Clear as Mud?

Here are some juicy definitions, which, after hours of web surfing, made the most sense to me…

1. “Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent.” [Content Marketing Institute]

2. “The creating and sharing of valuable free content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers. The type of content you share is closely related to what you sell; in other words, you’re educating people so that they know, like, and trust you enough to do business with you” [CopyBlogger]

3. “Simply put, web users are consumers of content. Therefore, you need to deliver compelling content that will engage your customers and keep them coming back for more. People are calling this “The New Marketing.” Most significantly, web users are searching for content to consume. This is key for any business’s relevance and branding.” [SEOMoz]

So, content marketing is providing something of value and quality to a target audience (which might include your clients, customers, members, readers and the public). Content marketing is the creation and sharing of information which can be presented in a variety of media, including news, publications, video, white papers, ebooks, infographics, case studies, how-to guides, articles, Q&A’s, photos, etc.

Content Marketing is just like a box of chocolates…

So, you’ve made a load of chocolates for your neighbours to show off your culinary skills and your value as a good neighbour. Whether you give a chocolate to your neighbours as and when they drop round for coffee, or whether you wait for an invite and take the chocolates with you when you go to their house, the strategy is the same. You are spreading awareness about your neighbourliness and your skills as a chocolate maker by gently sowing a seed and by giving something of value.

When they eat the chocolate, over a cup of tea, you also tell them the recipe, and inform them of how easy these chocolates are to make. You might find out as you get to know your neighbours that Mr Brown from number 34 doesn’t like strawberry creams, that Mrs Carter from number 5 is lactose intolerant and that Miss Smith from number 10 hates chocolates.

So you take out the strawberry cream when you go to Mr Brown’s house, you make a batch of dairy-free for Mrs Carter and you branch out into pies to entice Miss Smith (or maybe you decide you don’t really want to get too friendly with her, because she’s not really your type anyway).

No Stick, Just Carrot

If outbound marketing is the elderly, unattractive, balsy method of telesales, cold calling, spam and adverts then content marketing is its alluring, intelligent, generous cousin. Content marketing gives not to forcibly receive, but in the hope that it will receive. It is carrot, not stick. It seems to work on the basic human philosophy that if you give something of value for free, in some way you will be rewarded. But it’s also more psychological than that. It’s about building trust and reputation, through spreading awareness of your brand.

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Diary of an SEO Newbie 1: Leaving the Assembly Line
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